Review of The Groundhog Gambit, An 18 card adventure through time

It’s February 2nd, Groundhog Day, and you are trapped in Timely Manor. Can you escape in time?

The Groundhog Gambit is a two part, approximately two hour, escape-room-in-a-box style experience with a Groundhog Day theme, and is part of the Holiday Hijinks series of puzzle games from Grand Gamers Guild.

Disclosure: Thanks to Marc from Grand Gamers Guild for dropping off a stack of these Holiday Hijinks games for us to check out. Grand Gamers Guild is now also a sponsor of The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast. Use our code BELLHOP when shopping at Grand Gamers Guild to save 10% off. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these costs you nothing but may earn us a small commission on eligible items.

EDIT: The glitch I mention during this review has been identified and corrected by the game’s designer. That issue should no longer happen.

What is The Groundhog Gambit, Holiday Hijinks Game Number 6?

The cover of The Groundhog Gambit, a groundhog day themed escape room game.

The Groundhog Gambit is an 18 card escape room in a box with a Groundhog Day theme. Groundhog Day is observed on February 2nd here in Canada and the US and is based on a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition about the length of Winter. 

The superstition states that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and sees its shadow, it will retreat to its den and winter will go on for six more weeks; if it does not see its shadow, spring will arrive early. Both the US and Canada have their own groundhog that they watch on this day.

With that said, oddly this escape room game designed by Jonathan Chaffer has nothing to do with woodchucks. Instead, it is inspired by the very popular Bill Murray movie.

This puzzle game is designed for one or more players of any age and can be played in about two hours, which is double the length of all of the current Holiday Hijinks games. The game is split into two parts which should each take about an hour. You can try to solve the mystery in one sitting or you can easily split it over more than one night. 

In The Groundhog Gambit, it’s a cold February morning when you find yourself trapped in Timely Manor trying to escape while dealing with the results of the professor’s experiments gone wrong. Will you be able to escape in time?

A look inside the package for The Groundhog Gambit

Just like the rest of the Holiday Hijinks games, The Groundhog Gambit is a small pack of 18 double sided cards with instructions on how to play found inside of the resealable packaging. I don’t have an unboxing video to share with you, as there really isn’t much to see and we also didn’t want to spoil anything. 

The quality here is what we’ve come to expect from the Holiday Hijinks series from Grand Gamers Guild, including clear instructions, good iconography, and good card quality.

Some puzzles will encourage you to write on the cards. If you can avoid doing that (using scrap paper, tracing paper or a combination of penny sleeves and wet erase markers), the game can be re-packed and passed on to another group.

How to play The Groundhog Gambit escape room game

The introduction to The Groundhog Gambit

Playing The Groundhog Gambit involves opening up the pack of cards, setting the cards aside without looking at them, and opening a web based app that will work in any browser (meaning it will work on pretty much any device from mobile to desktop). 

Once you have the page up and select start next to The Groundhog Gambit the game begins in the form of a point and click style adventure. You draw a card which shows a room with some features on it that are numbered. You start with the ability to look at things by hitting the “look at” button and entering the number of the thing you want to look at. 

As you look at things around the room the game will instruct you to draw new cards, giving you new things to look at, tools which will unlock new actions, and puzzles you need to solve. Each puzzle is indicated by a magnifying glass and for each of these you will need to enter your solution into the app. 

Remember that each magnifying glass signifies a different puzzle looking for a different answer. We missed this at one point when we were instructed to draw two cards and thought the puzzle on one card was the only thing we needed to solve. It wasn’t until we noticed there was a magnifying glass on both cards that we realised we had missed something. 

The Groundhog Gambit is all about figuring out what object to use with what.

In addition to solving puzzles, you will unlock a number of different objects that can be combined with the numbers on the cards, in the same way that you use the look action that you start the game with. These combinations will lead to you drawing more cards and potentially unlocking more tools. 

While going through this adventure, if you get stuck the app has a couple of ways to help. First off there is an information button you can click that gives you access to a number of standard puzzle based cyphers and other information that may be useful to this specific game, such as the atomic numbers and symbols for various elements. 

The app also has a graduated hint system where you just find the card you are stuck on and tap on it to get hints.

We got pretty stuck while playing The Groundhog Gambit.

The hints start with making sure you haven’t missed anything totally obvious, then move on to letting you know what cards you should be looking at, and continue with clues, until finally giving you the answer. 

You continue through the game, using the objects you find, and solving puzzles until you get to the end and finally escape.

You are then presented with a final score and the option to send your play info off to Grand Gamers Guild where they will use the info to improve future games. 

Unlike previous Holiday Hijinks games, The Groundhog Gambit is broken into two parts and the app provides a way to save your progress so that you can either play it all in one sitting or come back to it at a later time.

The Groundhog Gambit packs a ton of punch!

A groundhog day themed board game, not something I expected to find.

The Groundhog Gambit is quite a bit different from all of the other Holiday Hijinks games we’ve played and we’ve played all of the ones released so far. The biggest difference is the estimated game length, which is two hours instead of one. 

With The Groundhog Gambit, you end up getting double the game time and thus double the value for the same amount of money. This does mean the game takes longer to finish than the other games, so you will need more time to play, but due to the fact that you can save, it’s not like have to set aside a couple of hours in a row.

The next change is the overall tone of game and the way it plays. The Groundhog Gambit has some similarities to The Birthday Burglary, as both have you collecting objects that you will need to combine and use with other things on the cards. This was much more involved in The Groundhog Gambit making the game feel even more like a digital point and click adventure.

In this game you will find puzzles you can’t solve, only to find the tool you need a few cards later. This means you actually end up having to return to previously unlocked puzzles in order to solve them. That combined with the fact that you could try to use any of your tools with any of the objects (sometimes with very amusing results) really gives a sense of exploration. You truly feel like you are wandering around trapped in Timely Mansion.

You will get to know card 64 in The Groundhog Gambit very well.

The biggest difference from previous Holiday Hijinks games, and the most impressive one, is the fact that the same cards were used for different puzzles.

In many of the previous Holiday Hijinks games, many cards had information required for different puzzles on them and the backs of the cards were often used as well. The difference here is that the exact same cards, set to the same side and presenting the exact same information, are used more than once in a really brilliant way.

I can’t help but be impressed by the behind the scenes design work that went into The Groundhog Gambit. I’ve noted in previous Holiday Hijinks reviews how impressed I’ve been by how different each game plays. Well, The Groundhog Gambit manages to go a step above all of the previous ones.

That said, our experience wasn’t perfect. I don’t know if it’s due to the added complexity of using the same cards for different things or something else, but during our first attempt to solve The Groundhog Gambit something went wrong in the app (be sure to check the update at the end of this review). The app is set up so that any time you jump out of it, for any reason, and return you get a chance to resume where you left off. It’s a very useful feature (and the one that’s used to save between chapters in this particular game).

Whenever we’ve played any Holiday Hijinks game I’m constantly jumping in and out of the app to do things like take pictures, share posts on social media, reply to texts, etc. This was never a problem until playing through The Groundhog Gambit.

For whatever reason, one time when I jumped out and came back the game didn’t remember where we were. After fumbling around for quite a while we figured out that the app thought we were four cards and five puzzles behind where we actually were in the game.

Once we solved this mystery, we were able to catch up and continue playing. From that point on everything seemed to be working fine. That was until we until we got to the chapter break.

At that point, we decided to stop for the night. When we went back to play, things weren’t working again and we determined that the app was somehow stuck at the same point it was earlier (at exactly forty-seven minutes and eighteen seconds in). We tried a number of different ways to try to fix it, but no matter what we did, any time we chose to resume the game it put us back to the same spot. And no, for those of you wondering, this isn’t how it’s supposed to work, even if it would have been thematically appropriate.

Somehow we broke something and ended up having to restart the game from the beginning. The second time through, everything worked fine. We were able to catch up to where we had left off rather quickly as we had already figured out all of the answers (and had kept pretty good notes). This glitch didn’t really sour the experience, but it is annoying that we’ll never know what our proper final score would have been. 

My kids helping us solve The Groundhog Gambit

Except for this one app issue, my family had a great time playing through The Groundhog Gambit. It features a nice mix of different puzzle types and requires a fun mix of different skills. The way you explore and interact with the objects on the cards makes the game feel like a physical escape room experience and the twist, which I’m sure you can guess by now, is managed in a very interesting and smart way.

My kids did have one complaint about The Groundhog Gambit. They were quite disappointed that there was no reference to the Groundhog Day holiday. Yes, there is an image of a Groundhog peeking in on one of the cards and there’s one puzzle that has a groundhog in it (that could easily have just been a rat or a hamster), but that’s it.

It seems odd to me to do a holiday themed game and then base it on a movie that is set on that holiday and not have it be about the holiday itself. Though, I guess it’s worth noting that knowledge of neither the holiday or the movie is required to solve any of the puzzles in The Groundhog Gambit.

If you dig escape-room-in-a-box style games I can’t help but recommend The Groundhog Gambit. This is the most impressive of the Holiday Hijinks games. It features the cleverest use of only eighteen cards so far and is double the game length compared to other games in the series, for the same price. 

If you are new to these sorts of games, be sure to play The Groundhog Gambit with a group, or perhaps you should start off with some of the easier games in the series first. It is not easy to solve. We ended up having to use multiple hints to get through all of the puzzles and I would consider us experienced puzzle game players at this point.

You can pick up The Groundhog Gambit direct from Grand Gamers Guild where you can get it as a stand alone game, as part of a bundle, or even in print and play format. 

When there remember to use our exclusive discount code BELLHOP to save 10% off your order. This works for The Groundhog Gambit, any of the other Holiday Hijinks games (and everything else Grand Gamers Guild publishes, like Gorinto, one of our all time favourite abstract strategy games).

Good News! The Glitch Has Been Fixed

After sending Grand Gamers Guild the information on what happened to me with the app during our first play of The Groundhog Gambit, I eventually heard back from the designer with some positive news.

He was able to recreate the issue and narrow down the source of the problem. It had to do with the size of the cookie file that is used by the app to track your game history, which is also what is used to be able to re-start the game at any point after leaving.

Jonathan was able to change the format of the cookie so that this should never be a problem for anyone ever again, which is some great news!

At this point, we’ve now reviewed all of the Holiday Hijinks games that Grand Gamers Guild has released. Be sure to check out those other reviews for more holiday escape room style gaming fun.

Have you played any of the Holiday Hijinks games? If so, what’s your favourite so far? If you haven’t played any I would love to hear about your favourite holiday themed game. Go ahead and answer either, or both, of these questions in the comment section below.

The Groundhog Gambit, Holiday Hijinks #6
  • #6 in the series
  • Super simple rules and tons of puzzles in a small package
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